The Ad Council’s iconic Smokey Bear has had a long run. Invented in 1944, he’s gotten everything from his own U.S. postage stamp to an act named after him in Congress.
But his work is far from over. To celebrate the mascot’s 75th birthday, which falls on August 9, the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters (the organizations behind Smokey Bear) are teaming up with the Ad Council to honor his legacy and further his message of wildfire prevention.
Betty White, who was named an honorary forest ranger by the U.S. Forest Service in 2010, is the latest celebrity to use her clout to support Smokey Bear’s cause. In a spot created by FCB, which has worked on the Smokey Bear campaign since it first debuted in 1944, White’s recognizable voice is used to bring an emoji version of the mascot to life.
In the ad, she warns of the dangers of parking your car on tall, dry grass, as hot exhaust pipes can start a wildfire.
The spot is part of a larger campaign that debuted this earlier this year starring Stephen Colbert, Jeff Foxworthy and Al Roker, all of whom also personified the Smokey Bear emoji with their distinctive personalities.
According to Michelle Hillman, Ad Council’s chief campaign development officer, the celebrity-focused effort gives Smokey Bear the opportunity to raise awareness of his cause with some help, since he’s largely relied on his signature “Only you can prevent wildfires” catchphrase over the years.
“Even though he’s a bear of few words, [FCB] came up with a campaign combining facial recognition and mapping technology to create Smokey Bear’s first-ever animated emoji,” Hillman said, explaining that White and her fellow famous counterparts “lent their voices and facial expressions to really amplify his message.”
In addition to the spot, Smokey Bear will be returning to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year to mark his 75th anniversary. The mascot first debuted as a giant character balloon in the 1966 parade and made subsequent appearances every year until 1981. He last participated in 1993, in celebration of his 50th birthday.
While nine out of 10 wildfires are still caused by humans, the Ad Council said that the Smokey Bear campaign has proved to be effective in recent years. According to the organization, there was a 14% reduction in the number of human-caused wildfires between 2011 and 2018 compared to the prior 10 years.